*. The first Return of the Living Dead was a movie that snuck through by the skin of its teeth. What I mean is that it could have been an absolutely terrible film, but the script by Dan O’Bannon and the quirkiness of some of the performances were just enough to keep it charmingly afloat.
*. No such luck the second time around. The sequel is garbage.
*. They try to channel some of the charm from the first film. James Karen and Thom Mathews are both back, playing roles very similar to those they played in the first film (a bickering couple who get infected with the 2-4-5 Trioxin gas and later turn into zombies). But they’re both at a loss here, with nothing much to do and nothing at all to say.
*. It seems as though Karen was just told to wail away pointlessly, scream, and cry out things like “Oh merciful god!” This is one of the most annoying performances I’ve ever seen on film. You’re just praying for him to get run over by a truck so he’ll shut up.
*. Allan Trautman is also back as the Tarman, but I’m not sure why. He only shows up briefly in a single scene. It’s like a zombie cameo. But he was one of the best things about the first film!
*. The new faces are no better. I hate to call out a kid, but Michael Kenworthy as Jesse is just awful. He’s almost as painful as Karen.
*. Not that he’s given a lot of help. The script is so bad it set my teeth on edge, with “jokes” so rough they cripple any attempt at delivery. Jesse tells his sister Lucy that since the zombies only eat brains, maybe they’ll leave her alone! When in danger he says “Great. I’m not even out of grade school and I’m already going to die.” After shoving his bully-zombie nemesis off a roof he says “That’s why you’re dead, asswipe. No brains and a big mouth.” After the same bully-zombie gets electrocuted in spectacular fashion Doc Mandel stands over his smoking corpse and says “Must have blown a fuse.” Ha-ha.
*. But at least these seem like lines that were actually written. Much of the movie consists of the actors just running around and screaming.
*. It’s not funny. It’s not scary. It’s not clever or witty or subversive. It’s just a retread of the first film but is worse in every department except for the zombies, who look a bit better. A film this bad should have killed the franchise in its tracks. But that was not to be.